It was 2011 and I was dining with Lloyd Robertson.
We were at Bâton Rouge in Scarborough, his favorite restaurant. Mr. Robertson was days away from ending his legendary run as chief anchor of CTV’s National News. There was much to discuss.
He put his feet up in our booth like a little kid. He tucked into his surf n’ turf and that silky baritone assaulted my ears for a long and ending time.
Robertson had anchored a national newscast for 41 years, twice as long as Walter Cronkite. Leaving the hurly-burly of broadcast news was fraught with mixed emotions. He fretted about adjusting to a “normal” routine. Delivering the news to Canadians had become a lifestyle more than a job.
Lloyd made the decision to exit while strolling a Florida beach with his wife Nancy. And a big factor was knowing Lisa LaFlamme would replace him. The newscast, his baby, would be in good and capable hands. He could sleep.
“There aren’t enough words to express how much I admire her,” he told me.
Now it’s Ms. LaFlamme’s turn to leave as the face of CTV News.
But unlike Robertson, this was not her choice.
In a video announcement this week, LaFlamme said CTV’s parent company, Bell Media, made a “business decision” to end her contract. Since she was no. 1 in the ratings, this is a curious decision to say the least.
Hey Lisa, you have the most watched newscast! Clean out your desk!
Speaking from her cottage on Lake Huron, LaFlamme used words such as “blindsided,” “shocked,” “saddened,” and “crushed.” In a press release on Monday, CTV cited “changing viewer habits” as the reason for her departure.
How those habits changed, and how axing LaFlamme helps, is not clear.
Canadaland published a fiery dispatch on L’affaire LaFlamme, fingering Michael Melling, Bell Media’s vice president of news, as the culprit who fired the beloved anchor. As one “high-level” source told the outlet: “He’s a company man. He does not stand up for the journalists… He doesn’t like it when women push back and he brags about how he’s destroyed careers of anyone who dares push back.”
I have no idea if that last part is true. But people I spoke to did say this was indeed Melling’s decision. He wants compliance, not defiance. He wants to leave his DNA on newsgathering. But LaFlamme, one of the smartest and kindest journalists in this land, was not inclined to jump into a corporate woodchipper.
So now what you have is one of the greatest unforced errors in Canadian media history. the no 1 anchor in broadcast news was unceremoniously terminated this week under the nebulous rationale of “changing viewer habits.”
please Don’t blame viewers for skittish and mercurial management decisions. Granted, this is not a fun time to be a media exec. The existential threats are relentless. But LaFlamme was more devoted to CTV than The Rock is to bench-lifting.
She gave 35 years of her life to that ungrateful company.
And forget about ratings and profit margins and new media platforms and all the rest of it. LaFlamme was adored by her colleagues. What message does this send internally? I don’t want to sound like the Riddler. But if the lead journalist tasked with caring about daily journalism is whacked by someone who is motivated by non-journalism, that’s not good for journalism.
If I ever decided to get into yoga — shoot me if that happens — I wouldn’t hire an accountant to help me master the Downward Dog.
In 2016, my mother-in-law suddenly died. It was a shattering experience. We may never get over what happened. One day, I was talking to Lisa. She shared insights from losing her dad. I don’t know how to explain it. But she was almost coaching me on ways I could help my wife deal with her devastating grief, ways we could start to gaze beyond the abyss.
This is ultimately what Lisa did for Canada: help us cope with bad news.
It wasn’t until Tuesday morning that I connected a couple of dots.
In 2011, when I was profiling Lloyd Robertson, LaFlamme told me about how he kept reaching out after her father died: “He helped me dramatically bring my mind back to the job when all I wanted to do was crawl in a corner and cry. I always think about that. That’s a friend who does that.”
Lisa LaFlamme was a friend to all Canadians. She always wants to be. She cares deeply about this upside-down world. As the CBC’s dashing Ian Hanomansing pointed out in a tweet: “I’m at a loss for words. Lisa is among the very best at what she does. I know surprisingly arbitrary decisions can be made in this business but Lisa, you deserve better than this. way better.”
Everyone deserves better than to be blindsided, shocked and saddened by a murky “business decision” after more than three decades of stalwart service. When a company ignores loyalty, it invites self-destruction. When a media outlet allows executive ego and the vagaries of a “changing landscape” to kill the bedrock values of editorial independence, that’s a wrap.
Lisa LaFlamme radiated warmth at CTV with her brain, heart and soul.
In return, they doused her with kerosene and lit a match.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION